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For the first time, Deanna Troi was uncomfortable on the bridge of the Negh'Var, the flagship of the Alliance Armada. Next to her, Regent Worf reclined on his imposing command chair. The rest of the Klingon crew stood at their stations around the long narrow bridge.
Troi didn't have a station. As Intendant of Betazed, she wasn't officially part of the Negh'Var's crew. Instead, she preferred to stand near the support beams directly to Worf's left, close enough that he could speak to her privately or she could make suggestions. The bridge was darkened except for the display panels, so she was shadowed and thus could observe the officers.
But her joy at being by her Imzadi was ruined by the presence of Kira Nerys. Troi had never imagined Kira would join them on the Negh'Var.
When Worf had heard that the new Overseer was making a grand tour of the shipping lines through the former Terran Empire, he changed course to intercept Kira's starship. He insisted he must observe her activities. Troi couldn't argue with that.
Yet within days of meeting up with the Siren's Song, Kira's ship was docked in the largest launching bay on board the Negh'Var. At eight decks high, the Siren's Song was really too big for the cavernous bay, but somehow Kira had wedged it in there. One morning Troi woke up and found that Kira had moved her crew, staff, and slaves into quarters on the Negh'Var. She did not appear to be in any hurry to leave.
Kira had even appropriated a spot on the bridge directly opposite from Troi, on the other side of Worf. Whenever Troi looked at Worf, she couldn't help but see Kira, her short red hair incongruous on the somber bridge. It was galling to be outflanked on her own ship. Kira had been nothing but a nuisance since she had become Overseer.
Troi's last attempt at getting rid of Kira had been destroyed by the death of Winn Adami. She wasn't sure who had killed Winn. The only evidence was a Klingon knife. But Troi suspected that Kira had something to do with it. Kira didn't try to hide her satisfaction that her political rival on Bajor was gone.
Suddenly Kira laughed out loud, making a comment about the Dohlman of Elas to Worf. "She acts like a painted replica!"
Troi sensed sexual overtones in Kira's use of the word "replica." It made Troi narrow her eyes while Worf grunted in amusement. A moment ago he had been irritated because the young Dohlman of Elas was resisting his demands for additional vessels to accompany the Armada as an "honor guard" through their sector. But Kira seemed capable of charming Worf at almost any time.
Troi normally would have been enjoying Worf's display of strength in appropriating the Dohlman's vessels. But instead, she hardly paid attention as double disruptor beams suddenly pierced one of the tiny vessels, blowing it up in a burst of blue-orange heat. Sparkling debris showered over the bridge dome, reminding Troi of the gorgeous meteor showers on Betazed II. She had watched them every night from the cliffs of New Hope while she had waited for Worf to return from Bajor last time.
Maybe she was thinking more about the revised plans for New Hope that her architect had sent for approval, because Worf's heart wasn't in this confrontation. Much of his anger had been drained by the glorious battle against the Romulans in the name of Duras. With fresh legions fighting on the front, continuing to press the Romulans back, the victory had been enough to assure Duras a place in Sto'Vo'Kor. Worf had then gone to Terok Nor, where Kira had welcomed the victorious warriors. After he returned, he had actually been...mellow.
Troi yawned as the screen showed the proud Elasian beauty humbling herself and begging Worf's forgiveness for the delay. Worf could lay waste to much of the Elasian territory if he chose, but Troi sensed his boredom. He was probably thinking, Why bother?
Kira said, "I suppose this means we'll shift the trade route closer to the Lissepians and choke the Elasians into proper obedience."
Worf agreed, "The Dohlman will learn her place in the Alliance." Without glancing at Troi, he ordered, "Change course to the Lissepian sector."
As Worf's crew instantly obeyed their commander, Troi exerted every bit of empathy she possessed to sense what Kira was feeling now. The Bajoran was excited by Worf's display of power and the destruction of the Elasian vessel. Her fiercely sensual reaction disturbed Troi. It was too much like her own emotional rapport with Worf.
Kira was clearly engaged in a rivalry with her for Worf's attention. In many ways she had already managed to interfere in their relationship. Just last night, shortly after Troi had dismissed Keiko, she and Worf had been interrupted by a request from Kira. Worf had disappeared for almost an hour before returning to her bed.
"Sir!" First Officer Koloth announced. "We are receiving a message from the Groumall, requesting permission to rendezvous with the Alliance Armada."
"Gul Dukat!" Kira exclaimed, her voice filled with loathing.
The first officer confirmed, "I have the Groumall on long-range sensors."
"Tell him to get lost," Kira said with a wave of her hand. "Who wants him around?"
Worf frowned, pulling thoughtfully on his beard.
Troi felt a quickening of hope. Worf had fallen into the habit of doing whatever Kira suggested. But this time, he clearly thought it wiser to not offend a fellow Alliance member. From the way he glanced at Kira, he also didn't like her arrogant assumption that he would do whatever she said.
"Request granted," Worf told his first officer.
"But what about the festival you've been planning?" Kira asked sweetly. "Dukat will ruin it."
Worf clearly had not considered the Kot'Baval Festival, but he almost never rescinded an order. He slumped deeper in his chair, scowling. But Kira laughed and shrugged it off. "Who knows? Maybe Dukat will get drunk and turn out to be the life of the party."
Troi could tell that Kira really didn't care about Dukat joining them. Her objection had been as fleeting as her other desires. Troi found that flightiness difficult to understand. As an empath, she was accustomed to judging actions according to people's emotional motivation. But Kira used her feelings as a playground. Emotions were called up and romped around, but nothing was taken seriously. Troi didn't know what was important to Kira, but she was certainly determined to find out. If she didn't do something fast, Kira could fascinate Worf beyond Troi's powers to combat.
The Kot'Baval Festival celebrated the ancient victory of Molar the Unforgettable over Kahless. Worf and one of his strongest warriors reenacted the fifteen-hundred-year-old ritual of Kahless attacking Molar with a strange new weapon called the bat'leth. Molar, with his superior strength, wrested the weapon from Kahless and slew the contender for his claim to the Klingon Empire.
Troi's mood was lifted by the high spirits of the Klingon crew, but having seen this particular ritual enacted many times before, she was not really moved. Even with the blade singing through the air, passing within a hairsbreadth of Worf's chest, she was hardly concerned. She knew exactly which move Worf would make to parry the thrust and wrest the bat'leth away. She liked things raw and unpredictable, but Worf cherished his rituals.
Now that the battle had been completed, Worf was at the front of the hall, drinking and talking loudly among his warriors. Both men and women butted their heads in merry disregard for their skulls. The smell of sweat and leather competed with the swirling smoke from the lanterns. For a moment, Troi forgot they were on a starship.
The few non-Klingon guests seemed out of place, clearly lacking Troi's unique ability to meld into any situation. Kira Nerys was drinking with the second officer, while her Terran slave solemnly surveyed the riotous crew. A few male Rutians, with their distinctive white streaks of hair, gathered to one side of the hall. They drank large flagons of bloodwine, and seemed to be handling the intoxicant well.
The most unusual presence in the great hall of the flagship was Gul Dukat and his aides. Troi vividly remembered Dukat's reaction at the Alliance gathering when Kira was named Overseer of the fallen Terran Empire. His outrage and sense of betrayal had been palpable, though he hardly moved a muscle. Troi had been pleasantly surprised by his reaction. It was not often that Cardassians revealed themselves so clearly. Their deceptive natures led them to hide their most cherished desires even from themselves. It was the ultimate way to keep their enemies from discovering their weak points.
So Troi was pleased that Gul Dukat had joined them for the Kot'Baval Festival. Dukat certainly acted like an ally rather than an enemy. His pleasant smile and gently clasped fingers betrayed nothing but polite interest in the ritual. His face was a pale greenish-gray spot among the dark Klingons, and the crew instinctively avoided the table where the Cardassians were seated.
Kira came toward Troi laughing, the effects of the bloodwine clear in her step. But even tipsy, she managed to look seductive with her knowing smile and swaying hips. Kira wore a black skin-suit, similar to the Klingon uniform Troi preferred. So Troi had begun wearing dresses to avoid comparisons. Worf had complimented her on her vibrant blue dress, cut to a deep V over one breast. He had encircled her waist with his hands, lifting her for a kiss. As he swung her around, her hair had loosened and came tumbling down around her shoulders. He insisted she leave the long dark curls free, gently kissing one tress before leaving the privacy of their quarters.
Feeling smug, Troi allowed Kira to approach. The Bajoran had been drinking quite a bit and would perhaps reveal more than she intended.
"Come on, Seven!" Kira called teasingly. Turning to Troi, she added, "She's afraid of you. Afraid you'll read her mind."
"Sorry to disappoint you," Troi told both Kira and the statuesque blond Terran. "But I'm not telepathic."
"Maybe not," Kira agreed. "But everyone says you know what people think." She grabbed Seven's hand and pulled her even closer to Troi. "I bet you can't figure out Seven..."
Troi was offended. "She's your Terran slave."
"No!" Kira laughed out loud, drawing attention to them. "Seven's a Free-Terran."
Troi considered Seven in spite of herself. Her own concealed half-Terran heritage usually made her avoid the few Free-Terrans she encountered. At a glance, she could tell this woman was unique. She was quite tall, and dressed for the occasion in a Cardassian military uniform. The strong diagonal lines made a dramatic counterpoint to her serene expression. Her attitude was good -- her hands were clasped behind her back and her boots spread as if she was poised to defend herself. Troi could sense a touch of inner uneasiness, though her full lips never trembled. When they began to receive more attention from the boisterous Klingons, Troi got the impression that Seven was always this self-possessed. Several of the Klingons were suggesting, not so quietly, what they could do with a woman like Seven. But the Terran ignored them.
"She's not what she seems," Troi said briefly.
"That's amazing!" Kira exclaimed. "You're right. Seven may look Terran, but she was raised as a Cardassian. I was talking to Gul Dukat over there." She jerked a thumb in his direction. In response, he stood up and began to approach. "He knows the family Seven used to live with. Ghemor is on the Detapa Council now."
"What are you doing so far from Cardassia?" Troi politely asked Seven.
"Nerys invited me to come with her on the tour," Seven replied.
Kira let out an unapologetic yawn as she languorously stretched. "And now it's time to leave. Come on, my dear. The company around here is not to my taste." This last was said with a glance over her shoulder at the approaching Gul Dukat.
Kira glided away before Dukat reached them, swinging her hips in suggestive appeal. Seven supported her arm, staunchly clearing a way through the staggering Klingons. Troi felt no animosity from Kira. There was nothing but curiosity and, after Troi's assessment of Seven, admiration for her empathic skill.
Gul Dukat arrived in time to look after Kira's retreating form. His eye ridges were drawn in displeasure. Troi was reminded of that unguarded moment at the Alliance gathering when his emotions ran strong.
"You are distressed," Troi quietly said.
"No." Dukat quickly covered his momentary lapse of attention with a cordial smile.
"It's natural for you to feel betrayed," Troi assured him. "First Kira seized the Intendant's post without your approval, and now she has taken the Overseer's position from you."
"I was her commanding officer," Dukat said by way of explanation. His urbane demeanor belied his warrior's armor, and she wondered if he was a good fighter. Assessing him quickly, she decided that though he was imposing and physically well-formed, his temperament was compelled toward covert manipulation rather than hand-to-hand combat.
Troi ventured a light laugh. "Perhaps you and Kira were closer than fellow officers."
Now his smile grew cold. "Not likely."
Troi was tempted to push this line of questioning, feeling his response despite his negative reply. He did feel an attraction for Kira, perhaps even tenderness. Unusual for a xenophobic Cardassian.
But before Troi could continue, Dukat gestured. "Look at her with the Regent."
Troi slowly turned, having steeled herself to never reveal her jealousy. That would be her undoing. Yet she knew that she was going to be sorely tested.
Kira was leaning on Worf's arm, her curvaceous body bumping into him as she laughed. Worf supported her when she nearly collapsed in mirth, while he tossed back his head and joined in. Troi so rarely saw Worf laugh, and it made her nervous. He was off his guard tonight, and she knew Kira had something to do with it. The Bajoran certainly was vital, with her unruly red curls barely contained by a new silver foil headband. And she held on to Worf so tightly --
"She flatters men," Dukat was saying bitterly. "She makes them want her, love her, do anything for her. Ironic considering she has always longed for a partner who was stronger than herself."
"Oh?" Troi said, startled from her observation. Could it be true? Was that what Kira wanted?
"Perhaps that blond Terran will finally satisfy her." Dukat almost choked with resentment.
Troi gave Seven another look. She was waiting near Kira, an island of reserve in the midst of the boisterous company. The Cardassian uniform seemed incongruous on a Terran.
"Perhaps." Troi didn't believe that such an aloof young woman could control Kira Nerys. "I don't understand why you're concerned after the way she betrayed you."
"Becoming Overseer is one thing." Dukat was still watching Kira as she slowly detached herself from Worf. She managed to touch him even more as she said good night. "Holding the post is another."
Troi finally began to smile, turning her full attention to Dukat as Kira left Worf alone. "Perhaps we have more in common than I realized."
An eagerness quickened his eye. "There are many who are not pleased with the current situation."
Troi gestured for him to follow her. "Come, let's go where we can talk...."
Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures
Annika Hansen, Agent Seven of Corps Nine for the Obsidian Order, waited patiently for her quarry to appear. Agent Seven had been undercover on Khitomer for several days, having been surgically altered to appear as a female Klingon warrior by the physicians of the Cardassian intelligence agency.
The other females in the Khitomer communal house accepted Seven's story that she had jumped ship to avoid her captain's wrath over a shipment of isolinear coprocessors that had gone astray. She claimed she was now trying to earn her passage back to Qo'nos, the Klingon Homeworld.
In the dark recesses of the hall, Agent Seven lightly scratched the Klingon ridges on her forehead. As part of her disguise, her hair had been lengthened, frizzed, and colored dark brown. The traditional female armor covered every part of her body except her chest, leaving her vulnerable to a knife attack in the finest Klingon tradition. To defend herself, she had spiked boots and gloves, and her three-bladed d'k tahg, honed razor sharp.
Agent Seven's current mission had come straight from Enabran Tain. She was ordered to assassinate Duras, son of Ja'rod. The intelligence brief Tain had downloaded into her cranial implant database had included the fact that Duras frequented this particular establishment whenever he was on Khitomer.
Seven's decision to infiltrate this communal house had paid off. For the past three evenings, the Duras sisters had visited the house looking for a woman to keep company with Duras. Tonight, Seven had no intention of allowing them to leave without her. Her orders from Tain were clear. She must complete the assassination before the Cardassian delegation arrived on Khitomer for the Alliance gathering. Then she had to withdraw from Klingon territory without being detected.
A fine mist covered Khitomer, drifting through the open spaces between the slanting black columns of the communal house. Seven was in the base of the pyramidal building, whose upper levels were lined by rows of tiny square windows. The first two floors were open, forming an atrium on a wide stone terrace. Iron lamps hanging from the high ceiling gave off a fuzzy glow that barely penetrated the darkness. When the clouds rose from the moist ground, Seven could see the cliffs of the nearby mountains. Usually visibility was near zero.
Agent Seven leaned against a slanted column next to the entryway preferred by the Duras sisters. Other Klingon women were drifting down from their rooms on the upper floors to lounge on the benches scattered throughout the atrium. Since Khitomer was in close proximity to the Romulan front, these were fierce women, battle scarred and ready for action.
Seven's tight leather gloves, doubly thick to hide her slender fingers, reminded her of her first Klingon simulation at the Obsidian Order training facility. That experience had gone on for weeks as she attempted to complete her assignment — assassinating a Klingon official called Gorloth, son of Poq.
Maybe she was thinking of that first training simulation because of its similarities to this assignment. Then she had posed as an available Klingon woman in the darker side of town, attempting to draw Gorloth's attention and maneuver him into a position where she could kill him.
But the training simulation seemed very far away, and Seven had to think hard to remember that although she had been playing a Klingon seductress, she had actually just entered puberty. She had been scared that she wouldn't succeed and her trainers would punish her. It made her bold and daring, despite the seemingly real surroundings.
It was a valid fear, because sometimes the training simulations turned out to be real. Seven remembered questioning everything during that first assignment. She hadn't been in space in years, not since she was six years old on her parents' ship before it crashed on a deep-space Cardassian colony. She had spent the entire time wondering: Is this ship really moving? Are those stars real? Is this pilot an Obsidian Order agent, a hologram of one, or a real pirate? Time she should have spent getting into character had been wasted.
Other trainees often argued over whether the Obsidian Order surprised them with real assignments because they were needed for the job, or because the uncertainty kept them on constant alert. It was true that trainees came and went, casualties in the line of duty. Seven never grew close to any other trainee. They were shifted from one undercover character to the next, complete with physical and psychological modifications. Even when they were in group training situations, they didn't recognize one another.
Seven had failed her first assignment, and luckily it had been a simulation. But a few subsequent sessions had turned out to be real. Her training had been thorough, and now it was second nature to slip into her required cover. Seven had become Melka, daughter of Kagh. Her real self lay tightly curled inside the Klingon shell, watching her own actions with analytical detachment as she bared her teeth at a towering female, hissing slightly to force her away from the choice spot by the entry columns.
Agent Seven knew she was good because she had received her orders directly from Enabran Tain. Tain had seen her worth when she was only a child and had accepted her into the Obsidian Order. With her parents dead, Annika Hansen had first been adopted into a high-ranking Cardassian family. Yet despite a physique altered to make her appear Cardassian, the Ghemor family could not fully accept a Terran as a daughter. After only one year, Ghemor had sent her to the Obsidian Order, making it clear that the Terran slave camps were her only option if she failed again.
The mist parted from the entryway as the Duras sisters appeared. Lursa was matronly despite her unmarried state, with a perpetually sour expression. Pretty B'Etor stayed close behind her elder sister's shoulder, forever in her shadow. They scanned the hall; Lursa's mouth puckered in distaste. B'Etor peered enviously around her sister, perhaps desiring the freedom of these warriors.
Seven stayed back for a moment as Lursa imperiously rejected the first women who approached. Duras had a reputation for being a passionate and honorable Klingon, one of the few men who had earned the respect of the communal women. However, it would lower the family's status if Lursa took the first offers she received.
When Lursa hesitated and began to inspect one female with serious intent, Seven made her move. With several long strides, her hand poised on the d'k tahg at her waist, Seven reached the Duras sisters. Catching them by surprise, Seven thrust the fawning communal woman aside.
Seven spit after her. "Duras, son of Ja'rod, deserves better than a mewling kitten!"
"Who tells us what our brother deserves?" Lursa demanded contemptuously.
"I am Melka, daughter of Kagh," Seven replied, loud enough for the entire hall to hear. "But any woman here would tell you the same. Duras, son of Ja'rod, deserves only the best."
Lursa was eyeing Seven with new interest. "Are you the best?"
Seven laughed, showing off her pointed teeth. "I leave that for you to decide."
Lursa and B'Etor examined her as Seven stood with her hand on the knife. It was like acting in a holoplay. Inwardly, her eyes were rolling at the overdone gestures and ritual displays of dominance. Yet Seven flawlessly executed the behavior best designed to obtain compliance, sorting instantaneously through the suggestions her cranial implant whispered directly to her mind.
Now her undercover work paid off. The communal women had learned to respect her and none dared to challenge her, even with Duras as the prize. Lursa looked from Seven to the women huddled back in the wan glow of the lamps.
"It grows late," B'Etor murmured.
Lursa abruptly raised her hand, cutting off her sister. "I don't like her."
Seven shrugged. "If you think I am too aggressive for Duras, then choose another."
Hissing laughter echoed off the stone columns as the communal women acknowledged Seven's direct hit. If Lursa had been a stronger woman, she would have struck Seven where she stood. But the Duras sisters were fundamentally weak. Seven had recognized that fact the first night they came to the communal house.
"You dare — " B'Etor started to exclaim. Lursa blocked her sister as if holding her back.
Seven's sneer conveyed her contempt. B'Etor was not offering a serious challenge. The soft laughter continued.
"You will learn your mistake," Lursa told Seven. "Come!"
Seven didn't show unseemly pleasure, knowing that Lursa could change her mind if she did not act properly grateful. Seven didn't care about Klingon power games. All she needed was a few moments alone with Duras, and her mission would be completed.
The Duras family had come to Khitomer for the upcoming Alliance gathering, to prepare the city for the arrival of the Regent and the Klingon delegation. According to Seven's intelligence information, Duras had taken command of an empty building at the edge of the city. The danger from the nearby Romulan front was evident to Seven as the flyer taking her to Duras passed low over huge impact craters that collected mist, remnants of previous attacks on the planet. But the Klingons had never lost Khitomer.
Seven was certain that Khitomer had been chosen for the Alliance gathering because it served as a reminder of the vast border of space ravaged by the ongoing Romulan war. However, the data on this matter was limited, so she concentrated on the task at hand.
The Duras standard had been boldly painted on the roof of the structure — a blatant sign of his presence. The standard was like a clenched fist raised to the overcast sky: Duras was telling Romulan kamikazes that he did not fear their laser strikes.
Effective, yet predictable, in Seven's opinion. She readied herself with the bio-mental techniques that would enable her to maximize her performance.
The Duras sisters escorted Seven down the stairs from the roof pad and into a scanning booth. Seven mentally detached herself from the routine of the sentry interrogation and the interior and exterior scans. She used her trained mind to shut down the cranial implant so the enhancements in her brain remained cloaked. She had no worries that her DNA would reveal her true heritage. For this assignment, the Obsidian Order's surgical unit had attached a genetic Klingon tag to her chromosomes. It would take a level-1 diagnostic, lasting several hours, to detect her enhancements. Most scans were merely a level-3.
Her cover personality, Melka, answered the Duras sentries exactly as a sullen Klingon spaceworker would. She also fought the removal of her knife, boots, and spiked gloves as any decent Klingon would. Apparently Duras had been badly cut up during his encounter last night, and the sentries joked that he wanted some entertainment that wouldn't require hours in the regeneration unit. The Regent, Worf, son of Mogh, was arriving tomorrow morning.
Meanwhile, loud Klingon voices and laughter echoed up the spiral stairwell, along with the clash of metal and the rumbling thump of wooden objects being smashed. The Duras entourage was celebrating before the gathering that would be attended by the ruling empires of the Alliance.
During Seven's stay in the communal house, she had heard rumors that big changes were coming. For many years, there had been grumbling that the Intendants who ruled the numerous systems in the former Terran Empire were mismanaging trade matters for their own gain. At the last session of the Klingon High Council, Duras had proposed that a special position be created to oversee trade in the Alliance territories. The most likely candidate for such a powerful position was Duras himself, Worf's closest ally on the Council. Duras traditionally backed Worf against the senseless demands of High Chancellor K'mpec.
Agent Seven had been amused by the women's simpleminded analysis from a purely Klingon-centric point of view. The other powers in the Alliance would have
a great deal to say about whether an Overseer's post would be created and who would be in charge. The Cardassian opinion was that the Klingons already had too much power with the Regent's position held by Worf. And surely the Tholian, Breen, and Ferengi empires would have something to say about it as well, not to mention the Intendants themselves.
Soon the matter would be decided, with the leaders of the Alliance converging on Khitomer from distant parts of the Alpha Quadrant. They were coming to a meeting that had a single agenda item — reorganizing Alliance control over trade in the fallen Terran Empire.
Abruptly Seven was shoved forward by one of the Klingon sentries who had finished scanning her. "This one is clean," he snarled at Lursa. Spittle hung off his lower lip as he eyed the sisters.
Seven assessed the situation, particularly Lursa's enraged eyes. Thrusting her foot backward, Seven caught the hairy sentry in his belly. Even though she was barefoot, the blow was effective because the sentry was unprepared, undoubtedly preoccupied by his desire to join the melee below. Her heel sank in deep, and then his chin was wide-open for her double-fisted swipe. He was unconscious before he hit the floor with a resounding boom.
That was one she wouldn't have to deal with on her way out.
Seven instantly dropped her guard, letting the others know she wasn't in a fighting mood. There was silence for a moment, with the sentries warily looking from her to their downed comrade.
Lursa's expression lit up, while B'Etor chortled at the prone form. "Rotten sack of veQ!" the younger sister taunted, kicking his leg aside as she passed by.
Lursa narrowed her eyes at the sentries to keep them in line, then gestured sharply for Seven to move along. Seven complied.
While waiting in a room draped in pungent leather from the walls to the vast cushioned bed, Agent Seven checked for alternate ways out. It was a long climb up the outer wall to the flyer pad on the roof, but that appeared to be preferable to confronting the sentries on the stairs.
Stripped of her weapons — d'k tahg, boots and spiked gloves — Seven nevertheless felt fully prepared. She readied herself, remaining firmly in the Melka character in case she was being covertly observed. She drank bloodwine, she belched, she lay sideways on the bed kicking one foot in the air as if she had nothing better to do than daydream. The sounds of raucous merriment continued on the floors below.
Finally the door swung open and Duras arrived with a puff of musky incense. His color was high, and he was grinning as if still laughing at a joke. "Begone!" he shouted over his shoulder to Klingons in the hallway. The heavy wooden door shut, muffling the noise outside.
"A drink!" Duras ordered.
Seven raised one side of her lip, watching him as she stalked toward the decanter. Duras was a handsome Klingon, in the prime of life. Pouring the wine slowly, she gave him time to come closer. He was curious now, and she averted her face, listening to him.
"They say you are a wildcat," Duras told her. "Lursa intends that I teach you your place."
Seven looked up at him, crooking her finger to beckon him closer. Duras leaned over, his nostrils flaring and the pupils of his eyes growing larger with desire.
"I know my place," she whispered, touching his chin with her fingers.
Before he could react, her other hand was on top of his head, and with a quick and practiced jerk, she snapped his neck. He knew this was the end, and tensed at the perfect moment, his eyes widening in surprise.
Duras fell hard, and she landed partly underneath him. His breath left his body and didn't return.
Seven trusted that no one would think the sounds were suspicious, or notice the thump of Duras's boots hitting the floorboards as she rolled him off her. She took his d'k tahg, sticking it through her waistband.
Dusting off her hands, she went to the window and opened it. During her earlier reconnaissance, she had noted that no guards patrolled the grounds of the estate. Apparently Duras employed a security ground shield to keep anyone from entering or leaving the compound on foot. So she would have to take a different route.
The climb up to the roof took more time than Seven had anticipated. The crumbling stone offered uncertain hand- and toeholds. It was also slippery from the moisture-rich air. She longed for her boots and gloves, taken by the sentries. Her fingertips, cut by razor-sharp flakes of rock, began to bleed.
With nearly two body lengths to go to the roof, Seven grew light-headed and thought she was going to fall. For a moment, she panicked.
She couldn't fail...
Suddenly she felt a wave of coolness wash through her. "Ahh..." she breathed. Her body felt lighter, her muscles stronger. When she moved, the pain that shot through her tortured fingers became a ripple of pure ecstasy.
Her cranial implant had been reactivated by the agony she was experiencing. Only elite agents of the Obsidian Order received this feature of the cranial implant. It helped them resist torture if captured by the enemy. Agents who had the implant usually died with their secrets intact.
With every heartbeat, Seven felt better. The constant waves of euphoria made her feel as though she could fly to the roof if necessary. She resumed climbing.
The hulking shadows of several flyers loomed in the mist, but there appeared to be no sentries on the roof pad. She could hear them inside the sentry hut, where it sounded like a party was taking place. Seven chose the flyer nearest the edge of the roof and crawled underneath to disable its running lights. It was an older model, and she accessed the command code directly from the onboard computer by inputting a virus that overrode security protocols.
The flyer lifted silently from the roof pad. She nudged the bar and let the flyer slide over the edge of the structure. With the afterburners ready to engage if she was detected, the flyer sank down the wall.
Using the mist as cover, she got away. It was only a matter of a few moments before she passed through the outer alarm shield, raising the alert. But she engaged the afterburners, and the flyer was off at full speed. She never saw her pursuers.
Seven proceeded directly to the busy spaceport. The Duras sentries followed, but they merely believed that a flyer had been stolen, probably by a drunken participant at the party. Surely it would take more time before it was discovered that Duras was dead. Then the full might of the Duras family would fall on the spaceport, perhaps even managing to disrupt this frantic place.
The spaceport was the only entryway to Khitomer, and each soldier who arrived on shore leave from the Romulan front passed through. Bars, restaurants, entertainment centers, and gaming establishments filled every nook and cranny, even hanging off the shaking walkways high in the air. Hordes of motley vendors and service providers in gay, skimpy costumes dotted the sea of dark leather armor. The sound was deafening.
Added to the mix were the delegations arriving for the Alliance gathering. A number of short Ktarians managed to cut a swath through the milling crowd. Their staffs let off sparkling blue jolts whenever a drunken Klingon staggered into their path. Alliance security were trying to get the Ktarian delegation through the spaceport without starting a riot.
Seven deliberately scaled several ramps and took two fast-walks to reach her storage unit. It was a midsize locker, approximately the length and breadth of her outstretched arm.
Paying the fee and opening the door, she noted the small sphere still rested inside. Holding it in her hand, she glanced around to see if anyone was watching. There were people everywhere, but nobody was paying any attention.
Seven quickly slipped inside the locker. There was a warning posted on the wall that the door would lock from the outside, but she knew she could use the power cell of the sphere to activate the latch. Last time she had hired a bed in the transit domicile in order to transform herself from a Trill into a Klingon. But now she didn't have time. Though it was cramped inside the locker, she expanded the plates of the transformation sphere, opening one end until it was big enough to fit over her head.
She quickly set the sphere for Andorian, having seen the distinctive blue antennae among the spaceport crowd. Their contingent must have arrived recently, followed by the usual throng of sycophants and merchants who served the elite Andorians. Since she didn't have much time before the Duras family would descend on the spaceport, she set the timer for the shortest sequence possible. The transformation sphere stated a warning that physical damage was possible under such conditions.
Agent Seven ignored the warning and activated the sphere. It was a good thing the endorphins stimulated by the cranial implant were coursing through her body, or she would have screamed as the sphere began lasering off her Klingon disguise. Then it applied blue Andorian skin and bleached the pigment from her hair.
It was a chop-job and probably wouldn't fool a real Andorian, but it would be good enough for her to get through the spaceport customs and pass the exit checks when she left Klingon territory. The transformation sphere could do only the most minimal adjustment to her DNA, adding an Andorian tag to the Klingon tag. If she was scanned, even with a level-3 unit, it was possible the odd mixture would be discovered. But she didn't plan to allow herself to be scanned again.
When she removed the sphere a short while later, her face felt raw, but the mirror showed beautiful sky-blue skin. The stout antennae were numb and fleshy. She brushed her short white hair into place over her eyes.
The next step was her hands, since the Klingon sentries has taken her gloves. Her fingertips were mangled, but she stuck them into the sphere. This time she couldn't ignore the pain that seared through her arms as the sensitive neurons of her hands fired and misfired from the stimulation.
Letting the sphere fall away, she saw that her hands were blue and appeared unharmed, while inside they throbbed with an intensity that rivaled the pain in her face. Each finger felt twice its normal size. With difficulty, she changed into the plain gray jumper that she had stashed inside the locker. It was the kind of suit almost any alien could wear, and now that she was disguised as an Andorian, she would blend in perfectly. She stuffed her Klingon armor into the bag to take with her. She wouldn't leave any evidence behind on Khitomer.
Now Agent Seven was ready to go.
Jadzia almost refused her entry, but Seven supplied the proper countersign. As Seven rolled open the airlock to the tiny starship Rogue Star, Jadzia was there to greet her. The Trill's spots appeared darker than usual against her flushed skin, as if she had been indulging in the conveniences available at the Khitomer spaceport. Yet the blade of the curved knife at her waist was polished, indicating she should not be treated lightly.
"Nice outfit," Jadzia drawled.
"Thank you." Seven had hired the irrepressible mercenary captain to transport her to Khitomer, then wait at the spaceport. Jadzia had served her well on several important missions, though she had no idea that Seven worked for the Obsidian Order.
Jadzia slyly added, "She leaves a Trill and comes back an Andorian..."
Jadzia's curiosity was one reason Seven hadn't returned to the ship as Melka. Reports would soon fill the Alliance about the death of Duras at the hands of a mysterious Klingon woman. The less Jadzia connected her with the event, the better. That was also why Seven had transformed herself originally from Klingon to Trill for the journey to Khitomer. She needed the pilot to handle the ship while she was undercover because the spaceport was known to "appropriate" vacant vessels in dock. The demands of the front often overrode private ownership.
"It is time to depart," Seven told Jadzia.
"So soon?" Jadzia said facetiously. She didn't seem too bothered by her wait at the spaceport. "I found the best places in this joint — "
"You will obtain clearance for departure immediately." Seven started for her quarters in the rear of the small ship.
"Who shall I say I have on board this time?" Jadzia called after her.
Agent Seven turned. "I will supply you with the proper information."
"You're the boss." Jadzia's laughter followed her into the back. "What I wouldn't give to see what you really look like..."
Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures